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now find a government agreeable to its modern aspirations? It is insufficient to ascribe the fact to the fickleness of the French temper. During ten centuries no Europcan nation has been more uniform and more attached to its government. If to-day the case is altogether reversed, the fact cannot be explained except by a radical change in the character of the nation. Firmly fixed by its own national determination of purpose and by the deep studies of the Middle Ages-nowhere inore remarkable than in Paris, which was at that time the centre of the activity of Catholic Europe—the French mind, first thrown by Protestantism into the vortex of controversy, gradually declined to the consideration of mere philosophical utopias, until, rejecting at last its long-received convictions, it abandoned itself to the evershifting delusions of opinions and theories, which led finally to skepticism and unbelief in every branch of knowledge, even the most necessary to the happiness of any community of men. Other causes, no doubt, might also be assigned for the remarkable change now under our consideration. The one we have pointed out was the chief.
To the same causes, acting now on a larger scale throughout Europe, we ascribe the same radical changes which we see taking place in the various nations composing it: every thing brought everywhere in question; the mind of all unsettled; a real anarchy of intellect spreading wider and wider even in countries which until now had stood firm against it. Hence constant revolutions unheard of hitherto; nothing stable; and men expecting with awe a more frightful and radical overturning still of every thing that makes life valuable and dear.
Are not these tragic convulsions the black and spotted types wherein we read the altered character of modern nations, are they not the natural expression of their fitful and delirious life?
These considerations, which might be indefinitely prolonged, show the truth of the phrase of Joseph de Maistre that all nations manifest a particular and distinctive character, which deserves to be attentively considered "
The fact is, in this kind of study is contained the only possible philosophy of history for modern times.
With respect to ages that have passed away, to nations which have run their full course, a nobler study is possible—the more so because inspired writers have traced the way. Thus Bossuet wrote his celebrated “Discours.” But he stopped wisely at the coming of our Lord. As to the events anterior to that great epoch, he spoke often like a prophet of ancient times; he seemed at times to be initiated in the designs of God himself. And, in truth, he had them traced by the very Spirit of God; and, lifted by his elevated mind to the level of those sublime thoughts, he had only to touch them with the magic of his style.
But of subsequent times he did not speak, except to rehearse the well-known facts of modern history, whose secret is not yet revealed, because their development is still being worked out, and no conclusion has been reached which might furnish the key to the whole.
There remains, therefore, but one thing to do: to consider each nation apart, and read its character in its history. Should this be done for all, the only practical philosophy of modern history would be written. For then we should have accomplished moraliy for men what, in the physical order, zoologists accomplish for the immense number of living beings which God has spread over the surface of the earth. They might be classified according to a certain order of the ascending or descending moral scale. We could judge them rightly, conformably with the standard of right or wrong, which is in the absolute possession of the Christian conscience. Brilliant but baneful qualities would no longer impose on the credulity of mankind, and men would not be led astray in their judgments by the rule of expediency or success which generally dictates to historians the estimate they form and inculcate on their readers of the worth of some nations, and the insignificance or even odiousness of others.
In the impossibility under which we labor of penetrating, at the present time, the real designs of Providence with respect to the various races of men, so great an undertaking, embracing the principal, if not all, modern races, would be one of the most useful efforts of human genius for the spread of truth and virtue among men.
Our purport is not of such vast import. We shall take in these pages for the object of our study one of the smallest and, apparently, most insignificant nations of modern Europe—the Irish. For several ages they have lost even what generally constitutes the basis of nationality, self-government; yet they have preserved their individuality as strongly marked as though they were still ruled by the O'Neill dynasty.
And we may here remark that the number of a people and the size of its territory have absolutely no bearing on the estimate which we ought to form of its character. Who would say that the Chinese are the most interesting and commendable nation on the surface of the globe? They are certainly the most ancient and most populous; their code of precise and formal morality is the most exact and clear that philosophers could ever dictate, and succeed in giving as law to a great people. That code has been followed during a long series of ages. Most discoveries of modern European science were known to them long before they were found out among us; agriculture, that first of arts, which most economists consider as the great test whereby to judge of the worth of a nation, is and always has been carried by them to a perfection unknown to us. Yet, the smallest European nationality is, in truth, more interesting and instructive than the vast Čelestial Empire can ever be—whose long annals are all compassed within a few hundred pages of a frigid narrative, void of life, and altogether void of soul.
But why do we select, among so many others, the Irish nation, which is so little known, of such little influence, whose history occupies only a few lines in the general anna.s of the world, and whose very ownership has rested in the hands of foreigners for centuries?
We select it, first, because it is and always has been thoroughly Catholic, from the day when it first embraced Christianity; and this, under the circumstances, we take to be the best proof, not only of supreme good sense, but, moreover, of an elevated, even a sublime character. In their martyrdom of three centuries, the Irish have displayed the greatness of soul of a Polycarp, and the simplicity of an Agnes. And the Catholicity which they have always professed has been, from the beginning, of a thorough and uncompromising character. All modern European nations, it is true, have had their birth in the bosom of the Church. She had nursed them all, educated them all, made them all what they were, when they began to think of emancipating themselves from her; and the Catholic, that is, the Christian religion, in its essence, is supernatural, the creed of the apostles, the sacramental system, the very history of Christianity, transport man directly into a region far beyond the earth.
Wherever the Christian religion has been preached, nations have awakened to this new sense of faith in the supernatural, and it is there they have tasted of that strong food which made and which makes them still so superior to all other races of men. But, as we shall see, in no country has this been the case so thoroughly as in Ireland. Whatever may have been the cause, the Irish were at once, and have ever since continued, thoroughly impregnated with supernatural ideas. For several centuries after St. Patrick the island was “the Isle of Saints,” a place midway between heaven and earth, where angels and the saints of heaven came to dwell with mere mortals. The Christian belief was adopted by them to the letter; and, if Christianity is truth, ought it not to be so ? Such a nation, then, which received such a thorough Christian education-an education never repudiated one iota during the ages following its reception—deserves a thorough examination at our hands.
We select it, secondly, because the Irish have successfully refused ever since to enter into the various currents of European opinion, although, by position and still more by religion, they formed a part of Europe. They have thus retained a character of their own, unlike that of any other nation. To this day, they
stand firm in their admirable stubbornness; and thus, when Eu.
Thy sun is just rising when others are set;
The full noon of freedom shall beam round thee yet.
That constant refusal of the Irish to fall in with the rapid torrent of European thought and progress, as it is called, is the strangest phenomenon in their history, and gives them at first an outlandish look, which many have not hesitated to call barbarism. We hope thoroughly to vindicate their character from such a foul aspersion, and to show this phenomenon as the secret cause of their final success, which is now all but secured ; and this feature alone of their national life adds to their character an interest which we find in no other Christian nation.
We select it, thirdly, because there is no doubt that the Irish is the most ancient nationality of Western Europe; and although, as in the case of the Chinese, the advantage of going up to the very cradle of mankind is not sufficient to impart interest to frigid annals, when that prerogative is united to a vivid life and an exuberant individuality, nothing contributes more to render a nation worthy of study than hoariness of age, and its derivation from a certain and definite primitive stock.
It is true that, in reading the first chapters of all the various histories of Ireland, the foreign reader is struck and almost shocked by the dogmatism of the writers, who invariably, and with a truly Irish assurance, begin with one of the sons of Japhet, and, following the Hebrew or Septuagint chronology, describe without flinching the various colonizations of Erin, not omitting the synchronism of Assyrian, Persian, Greek, and Roman history. A smile is at first the natural consequence of such assertions; and, indeed, there is no obligation whatever to believe that every thing happened exactly as they relate.
But when the large quartos and octavos which are now published from time to time by the students of Irish antiquarian lore are opened, read, and pondered over, at least one consequence is drawn from them which strikes the reader with astonishment. “There can be no doubt," every candid mind says to itself, “ that this nation has preceded in time all those which have flourished on the earth, with the exception, perhaps, of the Chinese, and that it remains the same to-day." At least, many years before Christ, a race of men inhabited Ireland exactly identical with its present population (except that it did not enjoy the light of the true religion), yet very superior to it in point of material wellbeing. Not a race of cannibals, as the credulous Diodorus Siculus, on the strength of some vague tradition, was pleased to delineate; but a people acquainted with the use of the precious metals, with the manufacture of fine tissues, fond of music and of song, enjoying its literature and its books; often disturbed, it is true, by feuds and contentions, but, on the whole, living happily under the patriarchal rule of the clan system.
The ruins which are now explored, the relics of antiquity which are often exhumed, the very implements and utensils preserved by the careful hand of the antiquarian-every thing, so different from the rude flint arrows and barbarous weapons of our North American Indians and of the European savages of the Stone period, denotes a state of civilization, astonishing indeed, when we reflect that real objects of art embellished the dwellings of Irishmen probably before the foundation of Rome, and perhaps when Greece was as yet in a state of heroic barbarism. And this high antiquity is proved by literature as well as by
“ The ancient Irish,” says one of their latest historians, M. Haverty,"attributed the utmost importance to the accuracy of their historic compositions for social reasons. Their whole system of society-every question as to right of property-turned upon the descent of families and the principle of clanship; so that it cannot be supposed that mere fables would be tolerated instead of facts, where every social claim was to be decided on their authority. A man's name is scarcely mentioned in our annals without the addition of his forefathers for several generations—a thing which rarely occurs in those of other countries.
“ Again, when we arrive at the era of Christianity in Ireland, we find that our ancient annals stand the test of verification by science with a success which not only establishes their character for truthfulness at that period, but vindicates the records of pre ceding dates involved in it."
The most confirmed skeptic cannot refuse to believe that at the introduction of Christianity into Ireland, in 432, the whole island was governed by institutions exactly similar to those of Gaul when Julius Cæsar entered it 400 years before ; that this state must have existed for a long time anterior to that date; and that the reception of the new religion, with all the circumstances which attended it, introduced the nation at once into a happy and social state, which other European countries, at that time convulsed by barbarian invasions, did not attain till several centuries later.
These various considerations would alone suffice to show the real importance of the study we undertake; but a much more powerful incentive to it exists in the very nature of the annals of the nation itself.
Ireland is a country which, during the last thousand years,